Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mormon Zombies

It's a madhouse! A madhouse!

Posthumous baptism is a sacred rite practiced in Mormon church temples for the purpose of offering membership in the church to the deceased. Church members are encouraged to conduct family genealogy research and forward their ancestors' names for proxy baptism.

Offering membership to the deceased. What, are you guys so hurting for new recruits? You've got to go after corpses? What I want to know is this...Let's say, some guy named Tom is dead. Tom died in, oh, I don't know, 2003. In a freak boating accident. He was going to donate his organs to science, but they were all ground up and spread around, and many of them were eaten by manatees before the Coast Guard could arrive.

Anyway, he's been dead since 2003. It's now 2006 and the Mormons offer his immortal soul membership in their fine organization. (Never mind how he's supposed to tithe, post-mortem. Hope you had some gold fillings, Tom!) Well, what's he been doing since he died? Burning in eternal hellfire? Do Mormons have access to condemned souls? If so, how did they manage that one? Did Brigham Youny defeat Satan in some sort of fiddle contest?

If you'd just let us in, we'd love to tell you all the Good News about our Prophet Joseph Smith and his Holy Book of Mormon...Then we'll eat your brain!

Here's where the story gets truly bizarre.

Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has said the baptismal rite is only an offer of membership that can be rejected in the afterlife by individuals. "So, there's no injury done to anybody," Hinckley told the AP in an interview last November.

Well, as long as there's no injury done to anybody, I guess it's no harm no...WAIT A MINUTE THAT'S COMPLETELY INSANE!

An offer of membership that can be rejected in the afterlife? How? Via seance? Do I really need to be dealing with customer service representatives after I die?

MY IMMORTAL SOUL: Yeah, it's the ethereal being that was once Lons, I've been holding for about 20 minutes already...
MORMON CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, Lons, thanks for holding. We just wanted to offer you another opportunity to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
MY IMMORTAL SOUL: Look, this is ridiculous. I don't want to join your church, I don't have any money, I'm just trying to be brutally tortured for all eternity for my sins, okay? Just leave me alone.
MORMON CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE: We're offering our postmortem baptismal at remarkably low rates this year...
MY IMMORTAL SOUL: Just, just take me off your list, okay? One of my relatives, like, a year ago, fills out a form and now I'm being summoned back to Earth all the time to join churches. Goddamn ridiculous.
MORMON CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, you can opt out of the program at any time.
MY IMMORTAL SOUL: Yeah, let's do that. I've already missed "Two and a Half Men," you know, and a new episode only starts down here immediately after the previous one has ended.

But Jews are offended by the practice and in 1995 signed an agreement with Mormon leaders aimed at preventing the names of Holocaust victims from being added to the genealogical index. The agreement would also have limited entries of other Jewish names to those persons who are direct ancestors of current Mormons.

Figures it would be the Jews trying to make problems for everybody. These Mormons are trying to save your dead ancestors souls, alright, people? How about a little freaking gratitude. I mean, just because your relatives suffered and died in a concentration camp and then went on to burn in Hell for all eternity because they never got around to converting to Mormonism doesn't give you the right to get all uppity.

Mormon church spokesman Mike Otterson said Friday that no meeting had been scheduled, but that Michel has been encouraged to bring his concerns before a working group of church staff and Jews set up in April 2005 to continue to work out database issues.

"One of the benefits of previous meetings is that we established an ongoing joint working group that would address what would appear to be any anomalies, or anything that appears to be slipping through our screening process," Otterson said. "That committee continues to meet and continues to be the best place for addressing these concerns."

All of these people are insane. The Mormons who insist on baptizing dead people whos efamileis don't want them to be baptized are completely insane, but the Jews who are so upset about the practice are pretty damn stupid and crazy too. Who cares if these Utah idiots want to use your dead relatives name in a kooky ceremony? They're dead! They don't give a shit. (Honestly, would they care even if they were alive?) If you want to say weird blessings and incantations in my memory after I'm dead, hey, knock yourself out, pal. Not gonna do you any good, certainly not gonna do me any good, cause I'm dead.

Do they think their relatives are going to get thrown out of Jew Heaven or something if they're zombie baptized? Frankly, I don't think this would be so bad, because I've heard about Jew Heaven and apparently it's not all it's cracked up to be. No good professional sports teams, and the whole place is overrun with endodontists and bad stand-up comics. (Although, if you like Chinese, you could do worse.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Freedomland & Date Movie

Hey, here's two movies I watched today. You want the short version? They suck tremendous amounts of ass. So much ass do they suck that the level of force of their suckitude could only be measured in a large, university-based physics laboratory. I think Cal Tech might have the resources, but I'm sure they're already too occupied with something about black holes or String Theory to bother figuring out just how badly Freedomland and Date Movie suck. It's a whole hell of a lot. That's all you need to know.

Okay, you want the long version? Keep reading...


Joe Roth's filmography reads like a felony rap sheet. A few more bad movies, he's going to make Interpol's Most Wanted list. Bad reviews just aren't enough to contain this kind of cinematic terrorism. Somebody get Scotland Yard on the motherfucker.

Egregious though his cinematic crimes may be - America's Sweethearts and Christmas with the Kranks stand out as particularly puerile - they're generally at least well-meaning, light entertainments.

His latest, Freedomland, takes on topics ranging from the horror of losing a child to the American racial divide within the framework of a police procedural. I don't know what made Uncle Joe think he could pull something complicated like this off when he can't even get a broad, silly romantic comedy with John Cusack right. It would be like the guys who made "Brokeback to the Future" taking on the King Kong sequel as their next project.

The resulting disaster isn't quite as cheap and manipulative as Crash, nor as grating, but it's still plenty insufferable. A stupid movie that fails as escapism is one thing, but a stupid movie with delusions of grandeur is an altogether different, and more obnoxious, thing entirely.

The trouble begins when deranged mother Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) shows up babbling at an inner-city hospital, reporting that she's been carjacked in the ghetto. Something smells fishy to local cop Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson), who apparently believes that he knows everyone in the neighborhood and doesn't think any of them would carjack a nice lady like Brenda. Or something. I'm not sure. He might also be concerned that he has such an obviously made-up name. This is never addressed directly in Richard Price's script, which he adapated from his novel.

Anyway, Lorenzo eventually gets out of Brenda that her son, Cody, was in the car during the carjacking, a revelation that takes this odd case in a totally different direction. Racist white cops decide that, because of the proximity of the crime scene to the projects, the only way to find the boy will be to shut down the entire neighborhood and harrass all the local residents. Lorenzo thus slowly finds his way into the middle of a budding race war.

And I do mean slowly. Nothing much happens in Freedomland, a problem for a film presented as a compelling mystery. Brenda shows up, immediately we sense something about her story is not right and then sure enough the investigation takes a few predictable twists and turns. But Lorenzo's style of detective work basically consists of berating his sole witness repeatedly over the course of about 48 hours or so. There's no gathering of clues or leads, no searches of local neighborhoods or interrogations, no red herrings or surprising discoveries. Just Lorenzo and Brenda, wandering around the projects and the wooded areas bordering the projects, yelling about what she's hiding from him.

The actors do their jobs, I suppose, and it's not their fault that they have tons of long monologues but nothing to say. Moore, as she tends to do without careful direction, goes way over the top and spends most of the movie in hysterics. Imagine the pharmacy scene in Magnolia drawn out over the course of nearly 2 hours. And Jackson falls back on Samuel L. Jackson-ness. At any moment, you expect Lorenzo to just give up on this wacko and start fighting some airborne serpents or ranting about the Bible.

Edie Falco shows up in a pointless role as a bereaved mother who travels the country helping to solve missing child cases. Yeah, seriously...This sub-plot will give your disbelief a minimum of three weeks' suspension. These parents, all of whom have been touched in some way by a tragic kidnapping or abduction, travel around the country assisting police in finding lost kids.

Don't they have their own jobs and families? Wouldn't insurance and legal issues come into play? What the hell does this have to do with Samuel L. and his ongoing investigation? All good questions and ones I cannot answer.

What's so offensive about the whole thing isn't it inherent lack of drama or accessability, but that Roth takes the Fox News approach to racial issues. Equal time for both perspectives, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense. Sure, Roth seems to suggest, the black residents of the projects whose neighborhood is placed under siege have a valid reason to complain. But, hey, the riot cops who bash their heads in have a point as well. We shouldn't judge one of them just because he beats the hell out of a few people. So there's all these random, gratuitous scenes designed to provide a "fair and balanced" perspective.

Sure, some of the cops seem to distrust blacks inherently. But, hey, some of these black guys are just angry. And, yes, it turns out that there's no good reason for the cops to seal the entire neighborhood, but they're just concerned for the welfare of a doe-eyed child! It might seem even-handed, but it's not honest, realistically or emotionally, and therefore it doesn't work for a second. I won't go so far as to call the movie racist, but it's at best oversimplified.

Freedomland is what all movies would be like if the Nazis had won the war. Peculiar, cruel, unsatisfying pseudo-entertainments designed to turn your brain to mush, muddy your thinking and limit your abiliy to reason concerning important social issues. Can you invoke Godwin's Law in a film review?

Date Movie

Easily the worst film of the year thus far, Date Movie seems to spring from a deep-seated hatred of movies themselves. Generally, film parodies display a reverence for their source material. You don't sense from Young Frankenstein that Mel Brooks thought Universal monster movies were stupid. He loved them, and this send-up was his way of integrating his style of filmmaking - outrageous, slapstick comedy - with the classic style of James Whale.

But Date Movie, a supposed send-up of romantic comedies, has nothing but scorn and cynicism in mind for its subject matter, and life in general, really. It constantly references pop culture, but only to point out that it's lame. It includes a lot of (minor) celebrity cameos and impersonators, but seems to regard all celebrities as ridiculous, preening, talentless hillbillies. It doesn't even deign to tell its own story, merely retelling Meet the Parents and its sequel, essentially scene for scene, and mixing in other references when needed.

Most of this can be chalked up to simple laziness. I'm sure co-writer Jason Friedberg and co-writer/director Aaron Seltzer didn't have a lot of time to throw this bad boy together, particularly considering the timeliness of some of the "jokes." References include Meet the Fockers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Paris Hilton's Carl's Jr. commercial and even King Kong, but they're not actually used as a jumping-off point for actual humor. They're just references. Sometimes, the references overlap and run into one another, into a kind of AIDS quilt of shitty filmmaking. One scene making fun of "Pimp My Ride" starts goofing on Episode III suddenly without warning. Another scene mocking Sweet Home Alabama gives way to an embarrassing, inappropriate shot of Michael Jackson attempting to molest a young boy. The effect is disorienting at best, tragic at worst.

These jokes are so old, two of them have been diagnosed with senile dementia and one broke its hip and the film's Westwood premiere. Milton Berle should sue the filmmakers for plagiarizing his "Private Joke File." Let me simply say this: At one point, a man refers to his 12-inch cock and then lifts up a chicken. Okay, let's move on. I've made my point.

Unfortunately, the problems extend well beyond sophomoric, trite comedy of the sort that Fatty Arbuckle deemed "too old-fashioned." Date Movie is just generally sour, mean-spirited and angry, and suffers from an appalling level of misanthropy. Everyone in the film is vapid and ugly and they all dislike one another intensely. Fat people and gay men are held up for particularly brutal, unfunny scorn.

As you often see in contemporary movies, homosexuality itself is a joke in Date Movie. In one scene, "star" Alyson Hanigan is given Mel Gibson's powers from What Women Want. (We know this because, in voice-over, she informs us that it's "like I'm in a bad Mel Gibson movie." Note to Mr. Seltzer...If you have to explain it, it isn't funny.) She looks at a biker whose thoughts resound in a frou-four feminine voice. I'm laughing already. But then, Hanigan makes a screwed-up face, to let us all know that gayity is, like, totally gross. And so is being fat, unless you're actually a thin actress in fat suit, in which case it's fucking hilarious.

Stranger still, Date Movie evidecnes a lot of hostility towards date movies. A Napoleon Dynamite impersonator shows up in the first scene, and overacts in the part ridiculously, as if to suggest that the character is overexposed or wasn't funny in the first place. The tone of every scene thereafter will be the same; now that we're a few days or weeks or months removed from this movie or show or commercial or song, we can recognize that it is bad and lame and was always bad and lame and uncool. That "Milkshake" song? How bogus. Britney Spears? What a used-up skank! If all entertainment's so horrible and stupid and disposable, why don't Seltzer and Friedberg do something important and significant with their lives, eh?

I hated Date Movie passionately. And if you liked Date Movie, I hate you. There, I said it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

You Can't Stop the Music, Nobody Can Stop the Music

Full respect goes out to Ace Cowboy at Slack LaLane for finding this huge compendium of online 80's music videos. It's a great collection, though by no means complete in terms of awesome 80's cheese. For example, though there is a Grim Reaper song in the gallery, it's not the classic "See You in Hell," one of the most outrageously ridiculous 80's metal videos ever. Also, you get Thomas Dolby, not it's a song other than "She Blinded Me With Science," which I must say, is a pretty glaring oversight.

If you're my age, it's possible to spend hours looking through this videos with a kind of bittersweet nostalgia seasoned delicately with nausea. I'm in the precarious spot of forever treasuring some of the worst pop culture artifacts of all time. I mean, to come of age when mohawks were trendy, every decor included green and pink neon, the Miami Sound Machine poured out of every jukebox and Judy Tenuda was America's favorite makes me shudder even now as I'm blogging.

Sexy Time!

Here's Kirsten Dunst, in Cannes for the premiere of her new movie, Marie Antoinette.

Army of Shadows

Initially, the shot that opens Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 epic of the French Resistance, Army of Shadows, came at the end of the film. A row of German soldiers marches in front of the Arc d'Triumphe in Paris. It's the ultimate symbol of foreign occupation and French humiliation. Saving it for the end of the film, already a tragic scene, would have been nearly overbearing. All the indignities and horrors suffered by the heroes rendered, in a single shot, meaningless. Coming at the film's beginning, it simply sets the scene - France is a shattered country utterly dominated by a corrupt foreign power.

Of the course of 2 and a half fascinating hours, Melville examines the lives of a few hopeful radicals navigating the treacherous and chaotic landscape of Vichy France. Though most of the action focuses on the career of former civil engineer Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) and his assistant Mathilde (Simone Signoret), Army of Shadows unfolds almost like an anthology film. Individual set pieces, missions and adventures coalesce into a portrait of an underground movement struggling to do some good while spending most of its time evading capture.

Melville is mainly known for outstanding crime and gangster films, like the smooth and quietly riveting Le Samourai. Though he switches genres with Army of Shadows, he brings most of his favorite techniques and characters with him. Instead of sketching the world of Parisian criminals through the point of view of a detached outsider, he examines the shadowy, uncertain world of the French Resistance with a relaxed, stoic demeanor. His cool style, defined by long takes and graceful tracking shots, perfectly matches the reserved calm of his characters. To pass unharmed and unsuspected through Occupied France, one must try to blend in whenever possible.

So well hidden are the Resistance members, many do not recognize one another as compatriots in regular society. Jean-Francois (Jean-Pierre Cassel) takes a moment off from a mission to Paris to drop in on his reclusive, academic brother Luc (Paul Meurisse) without ever realizing his sibling is the chief of the entire organization. Moving around between safehouses becomes a neccessity to evade capture. Even that does not work for long - almost every character will be caught by German or French soldiers during the course of the film. Many are tortured, some die and all are instructed to bring along cyanide capsules, just in case.

Though these are horrific, lamentable circumstances, Melville doesn't treat the film as some sort of austere remembrance of the lives lost during the war. Instead, he has made a carefully-absorbed and richly-detailed suspense picture. The individual stories that make up Army of Shadows typically have an element of intrigue and even adventure, like little mini-spy movies with a great amount of build-up and then a modest or non-existent payoff.

One relatively brief, outstanding sequence finds Gerbier and a compatriot held by German soldiers in a police station. Almost wordlessly, they devise and execute a plan of escape. Gerbier races down the street away from the station and ducks into a barbershop, where he asks for a shave from a barber who appears to have Vichy sympathies. The entire time he's being groomed, Gerbier hears the sounds from the street of Germans looking for him. Will the man give his location away? Will the soldiers think to come in the barbershop? Melville doesn't rush the sequence, preferring to take his time and let the anxiety build gradually before jumping right into the next sequence.

Following his escape from the police station, Gerbier will go to London on a quest for increased British military support. When called back to France for an emergency, he will have to parachute out of an airplane. Melville films the entire adventure in stark, matter-of-fact terms. Gerbier tries to sleep on the plane, propped up against the wall wearing his parachute and his glasses taped to his face. He hesitates for a quick moment after told to jump, staring down into the black whirl of space below. Though he's told to roll upon landing, Gerbier slams down hard on the ground feet-first. Then he packs up his gear and tosses it into a lake. Most directors would be tempted to amp up the action here, to raise the stakes in some way, but Melville has the confidence to let the sequence unfold naturally. This is a normal man who has been called upon to tackle far more danger and responsibility than most heroes could manage, and he does so without James Bond theatrics or posturing.

Because of the nature of this unconventional, multi-layered story, Army of Shadows isn't a film about traditional set-up and pay-off. The word "army" is right there in the title, but there's no war-style action to be had. The Resistance couldn't face off against soldiers - their numbers and supplies woulnd't allow for direct, open action. They had to hide out, plot quietly, execute only when they were guaranteed some kind of victory, pyrrhic or otherwise.

Most of Gerbier and his immediate partner's work concerns organization and diplomacy. On those rare occasions when violence will be involved, the agents seem reluctant, even repulsed. What seems to fascinate Melville is their drive, their ambition to succeed, which allows the members to overcome emotional and moral barriers that would have otherwise seemed inflexible. Like Le Samourai and Bob le Flambeur, films that obsess about an unspoken code of honor that unites even the lowliest of theives and murderers, Melville here explores the Code of the Agitator. Anything is allowable so long as it benefits the movement, and the only goal should be the perpetuation of the Resistance regardless of the cost in human lives.

A new restored print of Army of Shadows is playing now in New York and Los Angeles, and maybe even a few other cities as well. Pierre Lhomme and Walter Wottitz's crisp, blue cinematography has been lovingly rendered, giving the film a bright and contemporary feel. As in Le Samourai, the blanched, pastel settings evoke a sense of worn decay. This is a world that might have looked charming when new that has been weathered and allowed to sink into disrepair. These hideouts and ramshackle country headquarters, like their occupants, seem to exist constantly on the brink of total collapse, threatening at any moment to simply give way and fade into the cold forest night.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This One's Optimistic

If my calculations are correct, approximately everyone in Los Angeles will be attempting to score Radiohead tickets tomorrow morning at 10. It's a feeding frenzy that will make the U.S.S. Indianapolis look like the Spearmint Rhino's lunch buffet.

Whenever they breeze through the city, shows sell out immediately. Even Coachella (although to be fair, they co-headlined with The Pixies that night). When I saw them at the significantly large Hollywood Bowl, they were playing several nights that all sold out quickly. And this tour brings them through the relatively tiny Greek Theater for a two-night stint. These things will go in less than 5 minutes.

My friend Jason is hoping to pool his friends who might otherwise not attempt to get Radiohead tickets for themselves. He's urging everyone he knows to log on to Ticketmaster tomorrow morning for seats. I'm thinking that the chances are so unlikely, a few extra persons checking in on your behalf won't make a mathematically significant difference. But you've got to admire the attempt. As Thom Yorke might say, "If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough."

He also points out that, currently on Ebay, several pairs of tickets are already up for sale. To borrow a phrase from Peter Griffin, that really grinds my gears. I'm aware that, this being capitalism, anyone with a shot at getting early tickets to a hot show that doesn't personally care about the band will immediately jump at the chance, and that I would do no different. But still...lame. If they get the tickets early, why can't they just give them to me?

(And, yes, I'm aware that, in a previous post, I had claimed I would not be bothering to attend the Radiohead show due to economic concerns. This, of course, was a complete lie. But does it still count as blatant dishonesty if I was lying to myself at the time?)

Shocking, Gratuitous Gore

The duplicity and inane insider-speak of John Dickerson's new article on Slate, "Gore, Retry, Fail," perfectly illustrates the media's inherent bias against left-wing candidates. Notice, before I even have to type anything about the article, the headline, a weak pun playing on the computer option "Restore, Retry, Fail," that seems designed solely to work the words "Gore" and "Fail" into a headline. They must have tried at least 30 permutations before settling on that one.

"How about 'A Crushing Gore: Medieval Tortures I'd Like to Perform on the Former Vice-President'? No, too obviously vicious? Okay, how about, 'Blood on the Dance Gore: How Madonna and the Former Vice-President are Ruining America'? Not a good enough pun? Okay, um, what about 'Gore, Retry, Fail: Why the New Al Gore Can't Get Elected'? Brilliant! We're running with it!"

And why does Slate's Chief Political Correspondant think Al Gore can't get elected? Because he's Al Gore.

The article starts off positive enough. Dickerson notes the positive reception to Gore's new film, An Inconvenient Truth, at Cannes, although he fails to mention even what the film is about. If you'd read the article, you'd assume Gore's movie was about his desire to one day be President, not about the forthcoming Global Warming-enabled horrorscape coming soon to an Industralized Coastal Nation near you. He also discusses the newfound enthusiasm for a Gore candidacy in '08 from bloggers and other Democrats.

So what's the problem? Seems like it would be hard to characterize the sudden interest in his political career and pet causes as a negative for Al Gore. You've got to give Dickerson credit, at least, for trying.

This has got to be stirring for a guy who was essentially laughed out of town after losing the 2000 election. But Gore has yet to respond to the groundswell, according to those I've talked to who know Gore well.

Okay, Gore was not laughed out of town after losing the 2000 election. After winning that election, he failed to pursue his legal strategies with sufficient zeal, and conceded rather than remaining to fight. I think it was a mistake, but it's hardly akin to being drummed out of Washington as a laughingstock, in the manner that, say, George W. Bush will be (hopefully) very soon.

Also, how would Dickerson like Gore to respond to this "groundswell," that has been going on for only the past few weeks? Swimming across the English Channel, perhaps? Marketing his own brand of delectable, environmentally-sound frozen entrees? Prepping the sequel, IT2: Truth or Dare?

This sort of vague non-reporting reporting permeates the entire article. It's almost like...John's trying to pull an article...from out of his he can start his Memorial Day vacation early. But, of course, journalists would never do something like that!

"What Al Gore is doing now is living the life he always wanted to lead," says his former campaign manager, Donna Brazile. "He's a leading intellectual. He's talking about global warming. He's a venturecrat. He's leading the life I think a person like Al Gore would want to lead."

There are lots of other reasons that Gore probably shouldn't run, often articulated by inside-the-beltway types.

So the fact that he's enjoying outspoken public advocacy and is building a reputation as an intellectual (I don't actually believe this claim, by the way) means he shouldn't run for President? Who would be more qualified than a smart, educated man with strongly-held beliefs? John apparently thinks we should only nominate illiterate goobers without any opinions. Maybe he thinks it's important whether they wear boxers or briefs or if they'd be fun to have a beer with.

A lot of Democrats still have sour feelings about a nominee who blew a winnable election.

Yeah, like me. But I'll get over it.

Gore never liked the day-to-day work of politics (as opposed to governing) and was a lousy campaigner. He struggled to beat a weak Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primaries and lost to George Bush (sort of) with the wind of peace and prosperity at his back.

Well, again, he didn't really lose to George Bush so much as he conceded prematurely once George Bush's Dad's buddies had conspired to steal the election. I'll admit that Gore had a rough time in that campaign, but would Dickerson deny that the media representation of the man had at least a hand in that situation? Or do they still agree that poise and confidence and intelligence and proven leadership ability aren't as important as a love of Jesus and affability?

Also, the entire point of the article is that there is a "New" Al Gore who is more likable and less stiff than the old Al Gore. So, presumably, if this new Al Gore were to run, he wouldn't be such a lousy campaigner.

In polls, voters still react to him as negatively as they do to Hillary Clinton, or even more so. He may provide a nice contrast to George Bush now, but Bush won't be on the ballot, and in 2008 the Republican nominee is likely to be running against Bush, too.

Again, John, could the negativity towards these two be the result of 100,000,000 articles just like this one, informing Americans that they hate Al Gore and Hillary Clinton? Or does this hate just spring eternal from the American bosom towards any prominant Democrat?

I will admit that I like the idea of Gore running for president.

What? News to me. Then why don't you stop shitting on him for no good reason?

I'm a sucker for authenticity and prefer a candidate who speaks his mind (even my editor has made fun of me for this failing). But it seems to me that the hype about the New Gore poses a problem for him should he eventually decide to run: He can't sustain the authenticity that is fueling his bandwagon.

Who writes like this? "He can't sustain the authenticity that is fueling his bandwagon"? What the fuck are you talking about? John, your job is to inform, not to gossip. Being a "sucker for authenticity" just makes you a sucker. It's not about authenticity. Stupid. Gore hasn't even said that he wants to run for President yet. There is no "bandwagon," at least in terms of him as a candidate. Maybe in terms of him as an environmental advocate. And he's certainly "authentic" in terms of caring about the environment. He was writing books on the subject when I was in junior high.

It's not that Gore is inherently dull.

Aw, jeez, that's awful big of you. Wish I could say the same for you.

The problem is that the activists and bloggers most approving of Gore's "authenticity" also seem the least likely to allow any deviation from their definition of it.

Oh, I get it. The problem isn't Gore, it's those crazy librul bloggers and their wacky ideas. Man, this shit is convoluted and ridiculous.

Gore's assessment of the last presidential elections suggest he still believes campaigns must be won by moving to the middle, a notion some in his party abhor. He knows about political shading. It's why he can craft that coy language about running in 2008. But if he does too much of this, he will disappoint his new allies.

Here's John's thesis thus far:

Thanks largely to librul bloggers and radical fringe lefty radicals, Al Gore has seen a sudden surge in popularity. Even though most people hate him. And if he decides to run for President, he'll have to do stuff for people who hate him, which will make all those radical fringe moonbat lefty radical lbrul bloggers hate him. So he might as well not bother because everyone will just wind up hating him.

What penetrating insight! He can't wait, CAN'T WAIT, for his new chance to assault Al Gore. He can't even give the guy a chance to announce his candidacy. "Just in case, maybe, one day, if Al Gore decides possibly to run for President, he won't win because you all hate him!"

Talk about the New Gore also builds upon a structural flaw of his last candidacy: Does he know his own mind?

Does he know his own mind? What? We're right back to the "Gore's crazy and unhinged" line. Was this article ghost-written by Ann Coulter, and John Dickerson just went through and removed all the profanity and homicidal fantasies?

If what we're seeing now is the real Al Gore, why was he so easily swayed last time by advisers and pollsters bearing bad advice?

I don't think anyone has said we're seeing some sort of real Al Gore now, as opposed to a fake one then. The real narrative, that John has scrupulously avoided in favor of rumor and innuendo, is that Gore went away from the public eye for a while, devoted himself to causes about which he felt strongly and now has returned to the limelight to hopefully motivate Americans to action. Possibly, if he reaches enough voters who are then persuaded by his message, he would consider running for President.

I think people responding to him now more than before can be explained in two ways:

(1) He's no longer trying to appeal to all Americans, but rather feels a bit more free to speak his mind and be himself. Running for public office and speaking up as a concerned citizen are entirely different activities, and it's only natural someone doing the latter would be more loose than someone doing the former.

(2) The press hasn't focused exclusively on how much everyone hates him for a little while. They've given us all a break, a chance to think for ourselves about who Al Gore might really be, rather than ramming the "boring bookish inauthentic unhinged weenie" meme down our throats every ten minutes.

Unfortuantely, it looks like John Dickerson is declaring that merciful respite over with.

If authenticity is just a political gambit, it's hardly authentic. The Old Gore vs. New Gore angle is likely to become a theme of the coverage if Gore runs. The press will remind us again and again about the 2000 campaign's earth-tone suits and the Great Dane kiss of Tipper at the convention and all the other inauthentic things he did to tailor his behavior to show people what he thought they wanted to see. The press will watch closely for signs of a relapse.

Seriously, this is the dumbest paragraph I have read in some time. John's saying that some disembodied entity known as "the press" will insist on replaying all of their favorite Al Gore bloopers endlessly if he decides to run. But the only one bringing up this crap again is him and he's doing so well before Gore has even declared an intention to ever again seek public office.


Global warming, say? Or how Gore would stakc up against possible GOP candidates? Or the dynamics of a Gore vs. Clinton primary? No? Nothing? You'd just like to take some time out to recycle through your favorite "anti-Gore" highlights from the past, possibly while touching yourself?

But crusading liberal is hardly who Al Gore really is. He long supported welfare reform, free-trade, and gave a speech promoting faith-based institutions in 2000 that was as supportive of them as George Bush was.

Dude, seriously...what the fuck are you even talking about? Your'e saying that because Gore made a speech in 2000 praising faith-based institutions that he can't get elected President? What's wrong with you? Why not just wait and see what happens and deal with it then? Why make up possible "roadblocks" for Gore's candidacy out of thin air unless, contrary to your previously stated opinion, you want him to fail?

Good News for Herbivores

Even I was surprised to read this:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marijuana smoking does not increase a person's risk of developing lung cancer, according to the findings of a new study at the University of California Los Angeles that surprised even the researchers.

They had expected to find that a history of heavy marijuana use, like cigarette smoking, would increase the risk of cancer.

Instead, the study, which compared the lifestyles of 611 Los Angeles County lung cancer patients and 601 patients with head and neck cancers with those of 1,040 people without cancer, found no elevated cancer risk for even the heaviest pot smokers. It did find a 20-fold increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day.

So, heavy tobacco smoking is 20 times more likely to give you cancer than heavy pot smoking. And yet we legally allow people to smoke tobacco, so long as they hide out in a hole in the ground where no one can see them and take short, quick puffs. Wot's, uh, the deal?

The results should not be taken as a blank check to smoke pot...

[Interrupting a bong rip] What? Oh, now they tell me.

...which has been associated with problems like cognitive impairment and chronic bronchitis, said Dr. John Hansen-Flaschen, chief of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. He was not involved in the study.

Well, cognitive impairment's the whole reason to take up pot smoking in the first place. If people were terrifically concerned about cognition, they'd spend their free time reading Thomas Hardy novels or conducting scientific experiments. As for chronic bronchitis well...yeah, that just sucks. No one wants to be coughing up stuff all day, and if you are in that unfortunate condition, it may as well be tuberculosis. Which is more romantic.

The study was confined to people under age 60 since baby boomers were the most likely age group to have long-term exposure to marijuana, said Dr. Donald Tashkin, senior researcher and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine.

Previous studies showed marijuana tar contained about 50 percent more of the chemicals linked to lung cancer, compared with tobacco tar, Tashkin said. In addition, smoking a marijuana joint deposits four times more tar in the lungs than smoking an equivalent amount of tobacco.

"Marijuana is packed more loosely than tobacco, so there's less filtration through the rod of the cigarette, so more particles will be inhaled," Tashkin said in a statement.

"And marijuana smokers typically smoke differently than tobacco smokers -- they hold their breath about four times longer, allowing more time for extra fine particles to deposit in the lung."

So the study only experimented with joints, then, I take it? This overlooks the extraordinarily widespread use of pipes or bongs (or so I've heard). I've got to imagine a gravity bong or some such thing is worse for your lungs than toking a joint a few times. But what do I know? Unlike Dr. Donald Tashkin or Robert Pollard, I am not a scientist.

Hansen-Flaschen also cautioned a cancer-marijuana link could emerge as baby boomers age and there may be smaller population groups, based on genetics or other factors, still at risk for marijuana-related cancers.

This is pretty cool. It's like having a whole large population of test subjects. If people my parents age (but not them, because they're both high on life) start dropping like flies at 60 from diseases caused by their drug use in the 60's (highabetes, say, or shroomatism), I'll probably have enough time to quit before I get too old. Way to go, hippies!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Find Yourself a City to Live In

I can't really imagine what circumstances would make this new Google toy, Google Trends, actually useful in a practical sense. It analyzes various popular search terms and will tell you where the most searches for that item are coming from. For example, if one were to type in "diarrhea," one would unsurprisingly find Bangalore, India to be the central point of interest in this subject. I suppose it has the dubious honor of being Diarrhea Capital of the World, which is a distinction, I guess, though it doesn't really look so hot on a postcard.

This column from the SF Gate (pointed out by The General) declares Elmhurt, Illinois to be the town with the greatest penchant for "gay porn" searches. It seems to me that this is the only real purpose for Google Trends. Making embarrassing or otherwise suggestive intimations about people based on potentially embarrassing Google queries. After all, we use search engines with the expectation of anonymity.

Let's test it out...I thought of some humiliating search terms which we can use to insult people from cities all around the world.

ECZEMA: St. Albans, UK has cooties.

CORN DOGS: Huge, huge shock here...The citizens of Dallas, TX are most keen to locate hot dogs dipped in batter and fried. I was really expecting Milan. (Is it surprising that Los Angeles comes in at #5 on this list? Wasn't the whole theory that people were more health-conscious out here? I can't imagine anything less health-conscious than eating a whole lot of corn dogs. Unless you're smoking black tar heroin between bites.)

TOBY KEITH: Okay, everyone, take a guess right now...What American city made fully a third more searches for Toby Keith on Google than the second-place finisher?

Do you have a guess in mind?

No, it's not Dallas again.

Yes, it's Oklahoma City, OK. Home to the Flaming Lips, the Starlight Mints and a whole lot of angry Americans. And may God have mercy on their souls.

ASS SEX: Cairo, Egypt overwhelmingly takes the title of City Most Interested in Butty Sex. But the surprising part? My hometown, little Irvine, California, comes in SECOND PLACE. I'm not kidding. For real. Out of the entire world! Irvine, I knew you were repressed and a little stifled but...Oh, man, I had no idea! Los Angeles is #8, and Irvine is #2! A whole white-flight safe little Orange County enclave full of sweaty-palmed perverts secretly fascinated by the world of anal insertion. I just call it "home."

MILF: St. Louis, Missouri. IRVINE COMES IN #4! Is it just that there are four personal computers per person? Or is it as I'd always expected? Irvine is full of weird perverts.

ANAL BEADS: Irvine clocks at #5. Denver takes the top prize.

DONKEY PUNCH: Denver with the championship again. Unbelievably, Irvine doesn't appear. Apparently, despite their fascination with backdoor action, the citizens of Irvine aren't into violence.

LUBE: Irvine at #8. I always wondered about that funny smell. Austin, Texas, lands the top spot.

If This is Anyone but Steve Allen, You're Stealing My Bit!

Yes, I know, you can't copyright the concept of nominating assholes as Worst Person Alive. Other sarcastic Internet guys were doing it before I came along, more will do it after I gather my many millions of dollars in profit and walk away from blogging forever. I'm just saying...I called Rick Santorum evil first! Big ups to reader Kaz for forwarding me this link to The Beast's Top 50 Most Loathsome Americans list all the same. Interesting stuff to consider as I mull over this year's Braffy nominations.

Check this: Tricky Rick, last year's CBI choice for Worst Person Alive, didn't even make the list, but Tom Cruise and George Lucas are both on there. Yeah, George Lucas...How dare he produce classic films that have delighted, at this point, three generations of Americans. What an asshole. He's way worse than the guy who openly compares gay citizens to dog-fuckers.

I don't think Tom Cruise really classifies as one of the Worst People. One of the most confused? Sure. One of the least appropriate to raise an impressionable young child? Absolutely. But worst?

Cruise is a perfect example of a person who is simultaneously in love with and completely unfamiliar with himself, living in perpetual fear of self-actualization, and asserting a legal right to live free of criticism.

Agreed, but you guys think he's worse than Rush Limbaugh and Charles Krauthammer? How many villainous would-be dictators has Tom Cruise propped up? (Okay, L. Ron Hubbard...point taken...)

I definitely dig the inclusion of Larry the Cable Guy, but Oprah? Irritating and shrill, sure. I'd even go so far as to label her behavior in this year's James Frey debacle (backing him initially and then savaging him on her show to save her own reputation) dishonest. But she is not more loathsome than Joe Lieberman, Paris Hilton or Bill Frist. (Seriously, how could Paris not be #1. She might not be the most evil person on the planet, just because true evil requires some level of intelligence and creativity, but she's absolutely among the most loathsome. Don't you guys read The Superficial?)

Also, the entry at #4, where "you," the reader, are implicated as the fourth most loathsome American, kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I think the American people aren't worth loathing. I loathe us most of the time. But because the paragraph is accusatory rather than inclusive. The authors position themselves outside of the implication - it's "You" and not "Us" - which is haughty. Also, the worst thing they can come up with is that Americans watch too much TV.

Assuming that it’s normal behavior to spend several hours each day totally inert and staring into a cathode ray tube. Substituting antidepressants for physical motion.

Look, there's nothing innately wrong with spending your leisure time watching television. There are plenty of more pointless, destructive and inane activities in which you can participate. I'm not saying there's no value to being outside and getting in touch with the world around you, but this notion that sitting in your apartment watching TV on occasion is inherently loathsome and makes you a shallow, trite individual is just ludicrous posturing. Television is just another form of entertainment like any other. If you spend 12 hours a day doing it, sure, that makes you a loser. But spend 12 hours a day doing anything but slaving away in some cubicle makes you a loser to most Americans. Personally, I have more respect for the guy who's figured out how to watch Cartoon Network all day than the guy who's Executive Regional Vice-President in Charge of Specialty Referral for CompuTex.

And then...attacking people on antidepressants? Don't they have enough problems? They're already depressed and spending their hard-earned money for drugs that don't get you high, plus being on those pills kills your sex drive. Why not go after someone more deserving of scorn, like, oh, I don't know...Rick Santorum or any of the other 500,000,000 scumbags that didn't make the list. You trying to say Don Imus and Michael Savage aren't loathsome?

The Da Vinci Code

If American filmmaking has an exact geographical middle of the road, a single vanishing point that defines perfectly bland, exceedingly mainstream taste guaranteed to offend no one, this focus is where you will find the filmography of Ron Howard. Never a director to take a risk in terms of style or content, Howard prefers to adapt straight-forward material in as unsurprising and professional a manner as possible. From children's fantasy (The Grinch) to kidnapping thriller (Ransom) to the Western (The Missing) to period sports movie (Cinderella Man), Howard's never encountered a genre he couldn't drain the life out of and render predictably.

Only money could have motivated his decision to direct a big-screen adapation of Dan Brown's best-seller The Da Vinci Code. The film rights to this phenomenon are a license to print money, and Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer surely salivated at the prospect of marketing a major Tom Hanks movie based on an international smash hit book that opened on the same May weekend all over the world. But the material could not be a worse match for Howard's mushy, safe temperment. I'd rather see Howard direct almost anything - a GG Allin concert film, a live-action Smurfs movie, a 2 hour infomercial for the Egg Wave - than a wacky religious-themed puzzle-obsessed potboiler.

Predictably, Howard and screenwrtier Akiva Goldsman (responsible for A Beautiful Mind, Batman and Robin and other grim death marches) fail to approach the material with any sense of fun whatsoever. Rather than play the story for what it is - a fast-paced pulpy adventure story in the National Treasure vein - Howard insists on turning Brown's disposable prose into Schindler's List. Everything from Hans Zimmer's ponderous score to star Tom Hanks' strict refusal to emote in any way, or even make eye contact with other characters, bogs the film down, making what should be light, entertaining fare into a plodding lesson in Fake European History. And I don't need to see that, because I already scored a 4 on my Fake AP European History exam.

I never thought I'd write this sentence, but the strangest part is that Ron Howard ought to know better. How could anyone think 2.5 hours of half-asleep Tom Hanks shining flashlights around libraries would be entertaining? Ron's been making movies since the early 80's! How could any creative artist have such a poor sense for their own long-time audience?

I had to cross a picket line in order to see the film tonight in Culver City. Several Catholics out front seemed to feel that the movie was blasphemous, insulting Christ and encouraging viewers to lose their faith. These people needn't really worry, any more than they worried Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was going to knock their congreagations to the core. Brown's book and Howard's movie use vaguely historical references as signposts, to keep the audience interested and intrigue them with real-world ramifications for the action. But the entire enterprise unfolds in so unlikely and overheated a manner that I can't imagine anyone genuinely taking the conclusions herein seriously. If, as Ian McKellan darkly intones, The Da Vinci Code really reveals "the greatest secret in human history," we're a pretty weak-ass species when it comes to deception.

Robert Langdon (Hanks) discovers the secret after being called to a murder scene at the Louvre while on a speaking tour in Paris. A professor has been murdered and left a message for Langdon scrawled on the floor in his own blood. Also, he has written several clues in blood on various Da Vinci paintings and left some carvings in his own body. I guess he had some time to kill before he died and didn't have a pen handy. Fortunately, Langdon's a symbologist (probably not a real job) and he's joined by the dead man's granddaughter, clever French cop Sophie (Amelie vet Audrey Tautou), so all the various puzzles left by the old man are dispatched with relatively quickly.

The clues lead Robert and Sophie on a quest for the Holy Grail, which they find out from an aging Grail lore expert (McKellan) isn't a cup at all but represents Mary Magdalene, Jesus' wife.

Howard treats these kinds of twists on the Jesus legend as Earth-shattering revelations, the kind of thing that must be depicted with great reverence and sincerity. I have no idea why he feels this way. Sure, a lot of people take the Jesus story very seriously. But this isn't Passion of the Christ here. He's not adapting Bible stories. This is fiction! Some guy named Dan Brown made it up based on some popular conspiracy theories. Just as the Monty Python guys didn't insist on strict realism and deocrum when depicting the Holy Grail or God in their movie, Howard shouldn't feel like everything needs to be so pious.

What we have is a religious thriller like any other. There's an evil cardinal (Alfred Molina) and his equally evil monk assassin (Paul Bettany) who want to keep the truth about Mary Magdalene a secret. There's not one but two secret, ancient mystical societies battling it out for the future of Christianity. But mostly, the movie's made up of scenes ripped out of any detective or mystery thriller. Hanks and Tautou wander around libraries, cathedrals and catacombs, flashlights at the ready, searching for the next clue that they can solve in as speedy and verbal a manner as possible. Think Seven without the corpses.

Sequences like these, in which characters solve impossibly difficult puzzles with preternatural ease, are always ridiculous. Recent films like Sahara and Tomb Raider have relied heavily on similar devices, and it's always build around some ridiculous gimmick that wouldn't be solvable outside the world of a movie. But that's fine. The fun of these scenes is being presented with a crazy, unsolvable puzzle and then seeing a character work it out with only seconds to spare. But the trick is to whole-heartedly embrace the ridiculousness of the puzzles, to have fun with the clues and the solutions. Watching sad-eyed Tom Hanks work out inscription on Isaac Newton's headstone is about as much fun as watching him solve last Wednesday's New York Times Sudoku. Howard's filming the guy like he's inventing game theory or something. This is why the film gets laughs when it wants to shock and surprise.

Honestly, I have never seen a more dreary, unfocused and lethargic performance from Tom Hanks, ever. I don't always like the guy or his movies. I find Forrest Gump hideously unappealing. I thought he made just about every decision wrong about his character in Catch Me If You Can. But in The Da Vinci Code, he seems barely capable of motivating on delivering his lines. He's just distracted, failing to generate any chemistry with Tautou (who's on auto-pilot herself) or anyone else. He'd need to double his efforts in order to deliver a one-note performance.

The only two performers in the whole film who seem to really get the movie at all are Bettany and McKellan. Mercifully, they both kind of ham it up and try to inject the film with a little bit of personality. McKellan, as Grail scholar Leigh Teabing, does his usual wry, cantankerous old guy job - essentially playing an unmutated, scholarly Magneto - and Bettany falls back on bugging out his eyes and displaying his gruesome albino make-up, but it's more than I can say for anyone else in this dull slog. Jean Reno appears near-catatonic in his few actual scenes that don't involve sitting in the passenger seat of a moving car.

I can sympathize with their plight, because essentially no one is given anything to say or do that doesn't relate directly back to this beast of a plot. There's so much background, so much exposition, and Howard and Goldsman just haven't bothered to do the work of translating the book to the screen. A novel can get away with relying on a lot of exposition and backstory. Michael Crichton books don't usually kickstart the action until around page 200. Until then, you're just hearing about the industry or scientific community in which the action takes place. And Brown's book fills in some of the narrative gaps with doses of art appreciation and European history.

But you can't make a movie where people just pace and tell each other about stuff that happened thousands of years ago. It's just not cinematic at all. The Da Vinci Code has a few (a few!) memorable images - Bettany's monk whipping himself to be closer to God, the camera swooping through the glass triangle at the Louvre - but otherwise just plods along, lecturing anyone who will listen about the Knights Templar.

As if bogged down by all this conspiratorial whatsis, Howard's direction has turned slack and artless. The ugly, grainy, overly-dark cinematography fails to capture any of the beauty or shadowy menace of London or Paris. The pacing seems off, and many sequences take far too long to develop any intensity at all. Sometimes, who scenes will come off awkwardly or seem blatantly illogical.

First and most obviously, most of Brown's novel takes place in the course of one night. The French police summon Langdon to inspect a dead body, he scans for clues throughout the museum, he escapes the cops, finds more clues, meets up with the McKellan character, evades capture again and goes to England, and on and on, all before dawn. The timing makes no sense and stretches credibility to the extreme. This is the sort of thing that you can cheat with on the page, but that simply doesn't work in a movie.

But other logic problems abound. Many of Robert and Sophie's escapes defy reason, particularly as they exit Teabing's plane in view of the police. Robert, we're told, suffers from claustrophobia but manages to navigate prolonged periods in enclosed spaces with relative ease. Characters appear and disappear at will depending on the convenience of the plot, and the action climax develops in a way that's extremely convenient and anti-climactic.

In fact, Howard botches all the action scenes in the film. In shooting an early car chase scene, in which Tautou drives backwards into oncoming traffic, Howard just jerks the camera back and forth, seemingly at random. Bettany's monk also pops in and out of scenes with impossible stealth and staggering strength yet can be taken down later by an 80 year old crippled man when the plot requires.

Worst of all, though, as I've said, is the relentlessly dour tone. This is Ron Howard's idea of a summer movie? Really? I should never have broken the vow I made after exiting the theater to A Beautiful Mind..."I'll never pay to see another Ron Howard movie again!" Why would I turn my back on all my ideals?